Burke Residency 20: Neha Panicker

Written by Emma McFarland


Posted on August 16 2022

EMMA: Hi Neha, thank you for taking the time to answer my questions—I’m happy to have the opportunity to talk about your beautiful art! Would you begin by introducing yourself to our readers?

NEHA: Hello and thank you so much for having me! I think I’d call myself a curious and creative human who is passionate about making art and trying new things that inspire and challenge me. I grew up in India, have my degree in architecture and practiced as an architect and interior designer for a decade. In 2019 I transitioned into my lifelong dream of developing a full time art practice. I’m currently based in the greater Seattle area and have grown to love the evergreen state as home.

Artist Neha Panicker

E: I’d love to hear more about the transition from your career as an architect to a full time practicing artist. What, if anything, has shifted and opened up for you in being able to primarily focus on your art making?

N: It’s been life-changing in a necessary and significant way. I came to realize that making this transition is what would bring me closer to living my life as authentically as I hope to. Making aspirational transitions is difficult work but it's the kind of work I want to put in. Not knowing where my art practice will lead me has opened me up to experimentation and exploring unknown possibilities. I choose what self-driven projects I want to invest my time and energy into. It makes room for me to grow and evolve in my own unique way. It forces me to do the inner work. As humans, we all yearn to use our time in ways that bring meaning to our lives. For me, making art is my way of honoring my own search for that meaning. Trying to figure it out while making the journey, teaching myself along the way- it's how I feed my creative soul. My sister and I were talking about this recently and she said something that really resonated with me- ‘Being able to simply even be doing this is a blessing. Everything else is a bonus’. There’s so much truth in that!

 Artist Neha Panicker

E: I’m also curious to hear if your previous experience in architecture informs your present work. Does a consideration of space enter into your creative process?

N: It absolutely does. I’m a designer at heart. Layering, composition, form, structure are essential parts of my art explorations and art process. I play with the ideas of both ‘grounding’ and ‘suspension’ in my paintings and the attempt in ‘creating the space’ is something I’m always thinking about. I see my paintings as living breathing abstract entities that bring vibrant energy into a space. I want my paintings to illuminate the spaces they live in.

Art by Neha Panicker Art by Neha Panicker 

E: Along with space, I think the question of place is also interesting to consider with regard to the creative process. I saw that you grew up in India and are currently based in Seattle—could you share your thoughts on how your connections to Seattle and India may or may not inform your art. Are there any other places that have made their impression on your work?

N: Growing up in India is being entrenched in a multitude of environments, cultures, colors and art forms. Moving to Seattle and encountering the gray was jarring in the beginning. In fact, I started making artworks on the side to cope with the gloomy winter months. Doing this gave me a new found love for drawing and painting. I started enrolling myself in different local art classes and workshops to keep learning and trying new techniques. The motivation and gratification was palpable and I found myself wanting to push myself artistically. To keep working at and slowly get better at something you're trying to learn is fun, empowering and a great way to connect with yourself in a real way. Place does play a big role. Bali, Spain, Alaska, Montana, Santa Fe, the Pacific Coast, NYC- I draw inspiration from so many of these places that I’ve been able to travel to. The landscapes, textures, traditional arts, architecture, food, all of it. My art practice is greatly inspired by my own multi-cultural, multi-dimensional contexts.

Art by Neha Panicker

E: When I encountered your art, I was struck by the vibrant colors and dynamic layering of paint that brought to mind the flat dimensionality of pop art; it seemed to me to answer the question of what pop art could look like if it took an interest in abstract organic shapes and the natural world (A question that had never occurred to me to consider until seeing your “Days in the Sun,” “Shroom Blooms,” and “Duet” series!)? I would love to hear more about the inspirations you draw from and, specifically, how you approach the use of color in your work.

N: Whoa, I love that analogy! I love studying and learning from the work of other artists, especially women artists. Being creative is about having that innate need to do things your own way. I try my hand at different things because I’m eager to find out what gets me excited and makes me feel present in what I’m doing. I approach my art practice by finding the ways in which I enjoy painting and do that. Which means that at some point I stopped painting with brushes and started painting with other tools like squeegees and wedges. This might be the case today and I’m putting in the work to run with that spark, to see it through. But at the same time, I’m also open to that changing tomorrow.
I’m focused on pursuing how I enjoy doing things and what is intriguing to me at the moment. Finding color relationships is a stimulating and engaging challenge to me, so I make hundreds of color studies to pick combinations I want to investigate and play with. The next challenge then is how do I want to apply those colors, the paints and inks, what kind of layering and mark making do I want to explore? I’m also experimenting with how I want to feel that color in the painting- swim in it? take a shot of it? soak it up?

All of this I’m exploring within a theme and framework I’ve designed. The themes are sometimes informed by what I was working on before and had ideas about what I wanted to try next. They are formal explorations in an abstract language, and some of those become paintings.

Art studio of Neha Panicker

E: What can you tell us about the ‘Aura’ collection that you’re introducing with the Burke residency?

N: In these pieces, I’m working within a particular color family as opposed to pairing two or more different colors. And with doing so, drawing parallels between the color and the quality of the aura that color is associated with. The Aura paintings are abstract explorations of the intangible energy fields emanating from living beings. The unique spirit of the living aura is vividly expressed through the character of the abstract organic form, the essence of its individual color and the embodiment of the stroke.

Aura Collection Art by Neha Panicker

E: The abstraction in your paintings is so inviting and invigorating. Could you speak a bit about what draws you to abstraction and what it might give us access to—or what it might communicate—that other forms of artistic expression can’t quite accomplish in the same way?

N: Abstraction to me is about trying to envision new ways to see things. Representational art can be beautiful and assuring while abstract paintings can be quite infuriating, like what even is this?! But that’s the point I think- to gauge and examine that reaction. Abstract art doesn't have to be liked- its absurdity and strangeness is the artist's peculiar and personal form of self expression and experimentation. Toying with abstract concepts and making tangible art with it is about trying to see and craft things in a new way and maybe show things in a new light. It’s an endlessly fascinating subject.

Art by Neha Panicker Art by Neha Panicker

E: To conclude, I’d love to hear you elaborate on what you see as the connection between art and life. What does living life artfully mean to you?

N: My art practice is my intimate quest for self discovery. Working on myself through my creative endeavors is for me, a life lived artfully. With my work, I continue to evolve as an individual, through this lifelong journey. Art for me is not just about what you create, but about your way of life. How you live, the dreams you pursue, your generosity of spirit, how you face challenges, what you fight for, how you listen and how you speak up. For me, life is not separate from art, life itself is art.

Shop Neha's collection of original artwork available at Burke by clicking HERE.

Artist Neha Panicker



Leave a Comment